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Syria Trip - Mission Report

Syria Trip - Mission Report

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Published by InterAction

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Published by: InterAction on May 15, 2013
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06/02/2014

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May 2013, revised
InterAction and ICVA
 
Mission Report
 An NGO Perspective on the Response to the Syria Crisis
March 19-29, 2013
 
 
1 |Page
 
I. Background
Two years since the beginning of the conflict in Syria, nearly 6.8 million people need humanitarianassistance,
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representing over 20% of the Syrian population, and more than 70,000 people have been killed.The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that 2.5 million are internally displaced, whileover 1 million have fled to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and North Africa. The length, intensity and severity
of the conflict has led to the structural disintegration of Syria’s public and social services, including the
collapse of the economy, spikes in food prices, shortages of medical supplies and personnel, and fuelshortages.Traditional coping mechanisms have collapsed, and UNCHR reports that every day 5,000 people cross theSyrian border to neighboring countries. The complex and highly challenging operational environment, limitedhumanitarian access and heightening security risks further compound the crisis. As the crisis continues,UNHCR expects 3.5 million refugees and 7 million people to require assistance in Syria by the end of 2013.
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 The extraordinary need both in and around Syria has overwhelmed the ability of national and internationalactors to respond to and meet the needs of the Syrian people. Based on the analysis of five criteria
 –
scale,complexity, urgency, capacity and reputational risk
 –
Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos declared aLevel 3 (L3) Humanitarian System-Wide Emergency for Syria on January 15, 2013.
II. Scope of Mission
In the context of the expanding refugee crisis in neighboring countries and the IASC declaration of thehumanitarian crisis in Syria as an L3, InterAction and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA)traveled to the region in March 2013. The purpose of the trip was to review humanitarian practice and policyissues, including the interlinkages between the refugee response overseen by the UNHCR regional refugeecoordinator and the humanitarian response within Syria led by the regional humanitarian coordinator. Keycomponents of this review included an examination of NGO coordination structures and the implementationof the accompanying measures related to the L3 declaration. Specifically to the latter, the mission attemptedto get a sense of whether the NGO community was being engaged appropriately within the implementationof the transformative agenda.Members of the mission traveled to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan from March 19-29, 2013. The team visited Antakya, Reyhanli and Gaziantep in southern Turkey; Beirut and the Bekaa valley in Lebanon; and Amman,
Mafreq and Za’atari camp in Jordan.
 Within this report, ICVA and InterAction provide observations, key findings and recommendations.
III. Turkey
 
A. Humanitarian Action in Support of Syria
NGO Forum and Humanitarian CoordinationEarly in 2013, some NGOs in southern Turkey asked the global NGO consortia to look into ways of supporting an NGO coordination body there, but by the time of our mission the NGOs had themselvesaddressed the issue by creating the NGO Forum, based in Antakya. A seconded senior staff member froman operational NGO leads the secretariat, advised by a four-member Steering Committee. Supported by theSyria Needs Assessment Project (SNAP),
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the Forum has been able to complete needs assessments andmap data, a function that has enabled the NGO Forum to play a strong leadership role in informationmanagement. The Forum also has defined terms of reference for its secretariat and holds regular well-formatted meetings that, for the time being, have strong NGO support and buy-in (although the multiplicationof meetings is starting to unsettle some members). The body continues to provide coordination services, asidentified by the NGO community, including sectoral discussions and supporting the need for controlled
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OCHA, Syria Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 23.
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OCHA, Syria Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 23.
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SNAP was established by ACAPS and MapAction with the aim of supporting the humanitarian response in Syria and neighboringcountries through the provision of independent analysis of the humanitarian situation of those affected by the Syrian crisis.
 
 
2 |Page
 
dialogues on security issues, and also acts as the security focal point in the absence of a designate.Despite the successes of the NGO Forum, it is limited in scope and do
es not include all of the organizations’
responding to the crisis. It also lacks direct relation to the humanitarian response led from Damascus. Thisexpanded information management role, which normally falls upon the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), has not occurred within southern Turkey. While relations are cordial betweenOCHA and the NGO community, a lack of organizational trust was evident. The factors that contributed tothis situation included mixed messaging from OCHA senior leadership, which at first unrealistically raisedexpectations on the role OCHA could play and then were dashed due to mandate issues regarding cross-border operations. Additionally, and most importantly, there was a fear that OCHA was unable or unwilling tosafeguard information on cross-border NGO activities. This belief was potentially reinforced through thedelays in securing a senior Head of Office and also as a result of NGOs in Turkey having no prior directaccess to Radhouane Nouicer, the regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria. Both of these issues wererectified by OCHA
during the team’s visit
. Finally, there was a perception among NGOs that OCHA Turkey
felt less relevant as the “information needs” role had already been filled and it
was
in competition with the ACU
.”
 The Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) Adding to the complexity of coordination from Turkey is the unclear and potentially problematic role of the Assistance Coordination Unit (ACU) of the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. According to their literature, the ACU aims to
mobilize, coordinate, and influence humanitarian aid anddev
elopment assistance for the Syrian people.”
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After our discussions with both the ACU and others, teammembers believe that there is a strong dual risk of instrumentalization of humanitarian assistance for Syria.The first risk is that Western donors, through their overwhelming support of an entity with little capacity, littlehumanitarian expertise and almost no legitimacy inside Syria, are engaged in an ill-judged attempt to winhearts and minds rather than focusing on the proper delivery of humanitarian assistance to people in need.The second risk is the implied intent of the ACU to be the conduit through which the international NGOcommunity works inside Syria at the expense of partnerships with independent local organizations alreadydeveloped.
B. Refugee Response
The government of Turkey has done a commendable job of hosting a large refugee population in what are
often referred to as “
five-star camps.
However, two issues have been ignored given the scope of thegenerosity of the Turks.First, while the Syria-Turkey border is said to be open to all refugees, only a small number are actually
allowed to cross every day, de facto creating a “holding camp” in Atma on the Syrian side. Furthermore, the
criteria used to select people who are allowed to enter the Turkish camps remain opaque, thus creatingsuspicion.Second, Turkey also hosts a large number of refugees not based in camps, a population that has far lessaccess to the services and protection provided in the camps. This population is largely invisible, and thereare constraints hindering their registration, as well as a lack of access to services. The resulting inequalitiesamong the refugee populations are therefore an area of concern, as is the growing tension with the hostcommunity.This situation presents a unique challenge to UNHCR as the organization has very little leverage given thefact that the government of Turkey has taken on the burden of managing and financing the assistance to therefugees. The long-term cost of sustaining the camps, especially with the admirable level of services
provided, may prove to be a strain on Turkey’s hospitality if the situation beco
mes further protracted, asfeared by many.
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